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EARLYBIRD

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FBI to release details of anthrax case, Iraqi and Afghan security forces still not ready, Texas executes Mexican national, Chinese crackdowns on Tibet & protesters intensify, U.S. threatens Iran with more sanctions.

• "The same day of his arrival in Beijing for the Olympics, President Bush plans to pointedly express 'deep concerns' about the state of human rights in China and urge the communist nation to allow political freedom for its citizens," USA Today reports. "'America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates and religious activists,' Bush is to say in the marquee speech of his three-nation Asia trip."

• "Bush says that the Korean peninsula offers a contrast between free and open societies like South Korea and repressive regimes like its neighbor to the north," AP reports. "Speaking to U.S. troops at an Army garrison at Yongsan, Bush said: 'North Korea traps its people in misery and isolation.'"

 

• "FBI Director Robert Mueller" today "is scheduled to lay out the case against a government scientist the FBI believes committed the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people and sickened 17 others, two Justice Department officials said," USA Today reports. "The director plans to address survivors of the attacks and relatives of those who died in a private meeting."

• "As the military panel at the trial of a former driver for Osama bin Laden deliberated for a full day Tuesday without reaching a verdict, the presiding military judge said he might have given the members incorrect legal instructions about how the international law of war is to be applied here," the New York Times reports.

• "Two former CIA officers Tuesday denied that they or the spy agency faked an Iraqi intelligence document purporting to link Saddam Hussein with 9/11 bomber Mohammed Atta, as they are quoted as saying in a new book," AP reports. "The White House issued the statement on behalf of the former officials after a day of adamant denials from the CIA and Bush administration about the claim, made in 'The Way of the World,' a book by Washington-based journalist Ron Suskind."

 

Congress: Gingrich Praises GOP Energy Protest

• "Congress is poised to approve a federal apology for slavery just weeks before voters consider electing the nation's first black president," The Hill reports. "When the Senate takes up the issue in September, it could address a centuries-old wound at a time when the presidential contest is already focused on race."

• "Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on Tuesday applauded the House Republican energy protest, calling it the first 'serious energizing revolt we've seen since the early 1990s,'" The Hill reports. "'I'm very proud of House Republicans,' Gingrich told a group of GOP activists gathered for a state and local summit organized by GOPAC, a Republican political action committee he once headed."

• "High gasoline costs have put a crimp into volunteer activity at charities across the country," the New York Times reports. "Organizations, including the American Red Cross and Catholic Charities, have complained that the current tax deduction for use of a personal car while performing volunteer services for charities was too low at 14 cents a mile... compared with 58.5 cents a mile for corporate employees who use their cars for business purposes. More than 100 charitable groups have signed a letter asking Congress to address the problem."

Iraq & Afghanistan: Local Security Still Not Ready

• "The Iraqi government could end the year with as much as a $79 billion budget surplus as ever-increasing oil revenues pile on top of leftover income the Iraqis still haven't spent on their national rebuilding effort, congressional auditors say," AP reports. "A report by the Government Accountability Office made public Tuesday prompted renewed calls from senators that Baghdad pay more of the bill for its own reconstruction, which has been heavily supported with U.S. funds."

 

• "In the flatlands north of Baghdad sits a prison with no prisoners," AP reports. "It holds something else: a chronicle of U.S. government waste, misguided planning and construction shortcuts costing $40 million and stretching back to the American overseers who replaced Saddam Hussein."

• "Britain has begun negotiations with the government in Baghdad on a long-term military commitment to Iraq that UK officials say could leave significant numbers of UK troops in the country beyond next year," the Financial Times reports. "The Ministry of Defence envisages a possible longer-term relationship with the Iraqi military similar to the type that the UK has with other armed forces in the region, such as those of Oman or Jordan."

• "Interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province... reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness," the New York Times reports. "The army has made huge leaps forward, most of the soldiers agreed, and can hold its own in battles with the insurgency with little or no American support. But almost all said the time when the Iraqi Army can stand alone as a national defense force is still years away."

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• "The United States has spent about $6.2 billion since 2002 to transform Afghanistan's national police into a bulwark against the Taliban and other Islamist fighters. About 730 American military advisers have been deployed to help train and equip the force," the Washington Post reports. "But as of this spring, not a single one of the 433 police units that have received the training has been judged fully capable of handling its mission or the Taliban threat, according to a Government Accountability Office report."

• "A senior Afghan intelligence official has accused a number of parliamentarians of supporting Taliban insurgents, Afghan newspapers said" today, Reuters reports. "Afghan and foreign troops are struggling to contain the growing Taliban insurgency while President Hamid Karzai's government is also coming under increasing international pressure to rein in rampant corruption fed by the booming drugs trade."

• "In previous wars," Cpl. Garrett Jones, who lost half of his leg in Iraq, "would have received a medical discharge and returned to civilian life. But in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, the Pentagon has made it possible for some amputees to return to duty -- and for a few to deploy overseas again," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Advances in medical care and high-tech prostheses have enabled amputees to function far better."

Nation: Texas Executes Mexican National

• "Texas has put to death a Mexican convicted murderer, defying a ruling from the International Court of Justice and ignoring a last-minute appeal from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Jose Ernesto Medellin, 33, was killed by lethal injection in the Huntsville death chamber at 9:57 p.m.... Texas Department of Criminal Justice official Jason Clark told" Agence France-Presse.

• The Washington Times reports there were "no takers Tuesday on the first day of a new federal 'self-deportation' program that offered 457,000 eligible illegal immigrants the chance to turn themselves in, get their affairs in order and leave the country without being detained. The lack of response only reinforced doubts about an idea that has drawn criticism and ridicule from both sides of the immigration debate."

• "Tulsa County, Okla., is attracting the attention of educators across the country with a new scholarship program that has dramatically boosted college attendance by guaranteeing free tuition to all high school graduates," the Times reports. "Tulsa Achieves is among a growing number of programs nationwide that seek to boost economic growth by expanding the skilled labor force though improved access to higher education."

• "State labor investigators have identified 57 under-age workers who were employed at a kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, and have asked the attorney general to bring criminal charges against the company for child labor violations, Dave Neil, the Iowa Labor Commissioner, said on Tuesday," the New York Times reports. "In a raid in May, 389 illegal immigrant workers were detained there in the largest immigration enforcement operation ever at a single workplace.

• "Faced with a $15 billion budget shortfall and a testy State Legislature, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger [R] is dealing with a host of critics" and "now, even the state's computers seem to be against him," the New York Times reports. "Last week, with no budget agreement in sight, the governor issued an executive order terminating thousands of part-time and temporary state employees and slashing the wages of about 170,000 of the state's full-time workers.... But the California controller, John Chiang, says the state's payroll system... is so antiquated it would take months to make the changes to workers' checks."

• "The state of Mississippi moved Tuesday to improve what critics have called one of the nation's most poorly monitored criminal autopsy systems -- one that may have resulted in two innocent men spending years in prison," the Los Angeles Times reports. "State Public Safety Commissioner Stephen B. Simpson announced that he had removed a controversial doctor, Steven Hayne, from the list of physicians allowed to perform forensic autopsies, and said that a full-time state medical examiner would be hired in the next few months with money recently provided by the Legislature."

• "Fresh from their successful effort to remove a local judge on the grounds that he was biased against them, the defendants in the racially charged Jena 6 case in Louisiana are now seeking the recusal of the local prosecutor for similar reasons," the Chicago Tribune reports. "Attorneys for the five remaining black youths, whose prosecution for beating up a white classmate at Jena High School sparked a civil rights march through the Louisiana town last September, contend that LaSalle Parish District Atty. Reed Walters has a conflict of interest because of his dual role as local prosecutor and counsel for the local school board."

Economy: Markets Rally As Oil Prices Decline

• "The Dow Jones industrial average jumped 2.9 percent Tuesday as investors drew confidence from a continued decline in oil prices and from the Federal Reserve's prediction that inflation would level off," the Washington Post reports. "The Fed left interest rates unchanged and indicated that although it is worried about the slumping economy, it will be vigilant about inflation."

• "The United States Treasury has hired Morgan Stanley to provide advice on the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, a government spokeswoman said Tuesday," the New York Times reports. "The Treasury is evaluating how and whether to use its authority over the two government-backed mortgage giants."

• Freddie Mac "will slash its dividend at least 80 percent after posting a quarterly loss that was three times wider than analysts' estimates," Bloomberg News reports.

• "In a season of roller-coaster energy costs, the drop in oil and natural gas prices in recent days was greeted as good news. But they remain so high that experts are predicting that heating bills this winter will far exceed those of last year," the New York Times reports. "Even after a precipitous decline from its peak in early July, the price of natural gas is still 11 percent above where it was last winter."

• "Federal prosecutors charged 11 people" on Tuesday "with the theft and sale of more than 40 million credit and debit card numbers from at least nine U.S. retailers in what they said was one of the largest and most complex hacking and identity theft cases ever brought," the Washington Post reports.

China: Crackdowns On Tibet, Protesters Intensify

• "Days before the start of the Beijing Olympics, a pro-Tibet activist group is criticizing China for intensifying a crackdown on Tibet and sealing off virtually the entire Tibetan plateau to 'hide its repression,'" AP reports. "In a report released Tuesday, the International Campaign for Tibet said that since anti-China protests erupted in March, armed soldiers have surrounded the Himalayan region's Buddhist monasteries and "hundreds of Tibetans, including students, monks, nuns and farmers, it said, have been detained or 'disappeared.'"

• "Human rights groups are... saying the International Olympic Committee has only halfheartedly followed up on key causes of concern," the Washington Post reports. "These groups say IOC representatives have failed to make good on pledges to press Beijing on the serious rights violations that have been reported in the run-up to the Games, which open Friday. Instead, they say, the IOC has stonewalled with bureaucratic responses."

• "China announced late last month that it would permit protests during the Olympics in specially designated zones, as long as demonstrators first secured permits. The process has not proved that simple," the Washington Post reports. "Instead, many would-be protesters say they are being discouraged from staying in Beijing for the Games or flat-out denied permits. Others say they have decided against applying because they view the process as a farce -- one that's meant only to collect information about dissenters."

• "Former Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek had his visa revoked by Chinese authorities" today, "hours before he was set to travel to Beijing to promote his effort urging China to help make peace in the war-torn Darfur section of Sudan," AP reports. "Cheek, the president and co-founder of a collection of Olympic athletes known as Team Darfur, was planning to spend about two weeks in China, when he received an unexpected call from authorities" saying "they were denying him entrance into the country and were 'not required to give a reason.'"

• "Although Beijing is still struggling to make the skies clear for the Olympics, a massive cleanup effort before the Summer Games has given people here a taste of fresh air," the Los Angeles Times reports. "They want to keep it that way, but business groups are likely to lobby for an easing of the restrictions."

• "To say" Beijing "is in the throes of Olympic fever would be a gargantuan understatement," the New York Times reports. "But poke a bit deeper... and the sloganeering can give way to grumbling. Many complaints involve traffic restrictions that have forced drivers to give up their cars, or security measures that require subway riders to undergo bag searches."

• "The U.S. Olympic Committee, for the first time ever, is requiring all of its 596 Olympians to attend" a course on Chinese culture and etiquette "prior to traveling to Beijing," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The committee has dubbed it the 'ambassador program.'"

World: U.S. Threatens Iran With More Sanctions

• "The United States and its allies want 'punitive' measures against Iran over its weak response to the international offer to persuade it to freeze its nuclear program, the White House said" today, Agence France-Presse reports. "The threat came ahead of new talks between the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia on the latest Iranian letter to the powers."

• "Iran's nuclear program is becoming an increasingly important issue in the race for Israel's premiership, though the campaign started in earnest only last week," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The issue is certain to become more politicized with Israel's primary rapidly approaching, contributing to a climate that could further rattle global oil markets and inflame regional tensions."

• "The high-profile arrest of a Pakistani woman suspected of Al Qaeda links casts a spotlight on an issue her nation's fledgling civilian government has been slow to confront: years of official secrecy surrounding the fate of hundreds of people rounded up as terrorism suspects," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "In the latest round of a bitter and extended exchange of charges, Rwanda's government Tuesday officially accused French political and military leaders of complicity in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which left up to 800,000 dead," the Chicago Tribune reports. "In an effort to protect a friendly government facing a rebel threat, France helped train the Rwandan ethnic Hutu troops and militias that ultimately carried out the genocide and continued to supply arms to the perpetrators even after the killings had started, charged a commission set up by the Rwandan government to investigate France's role in the killings."

• "Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will run the country under a mooted draft agreement while President Robert Mugabe will become ceremonial president, a South African newspaper reported" today, Reuters reports. "The Star newspaper said a draft document circulated among negotiators in Zimbabwe's power-sharing talks in South Africa also proposed an amnesty for Mugabe and others implicated in political crimes."

• "Sudanese Justice Minister Abdul Basit Sabdarat has appointed a special prosecutor to probe alleged crimes in the war-torn western region of Darfur and with the power to take cases to court," Agence France-Presse reports. "The move came three weeks after the International Criminal Court chief prosecutor requested an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Beshir for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur."

• "President Hugo Chavez is using his decree powers to enact a set of socialist-inspired measures that seem based on a package of constitutional changes that voters rejected last year," the New York Times reports. "His actions open a new stage of confrontation between his government and the political opposition."

• "The mayor of Hiroshima" today "urged the next US president to work to abolish atomic weapons as the city marked the 63rd anniversary of the world's first nuclear attack," Agence France-Presse reports. "Some 45,000 people, including Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, gathered at a memorial to the dead within sight of the A-bomb dome, a former exhibition hall burned to a skeleton by the bomb's incinerating heat."

Campaigns: Obama Maintains Slim Lead

• A new AP-Ipsos poll shows Barack Obama, buoyed by support from women, minorities and young voters, holding a 6-percentage-point lead over John McCain. Earlybird's Campaign News section has details.

Commentary: 'Petty' Politics

Ludacris, Paris Hilton and even Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman have made it into the election debate in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section.

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